In 32 years, she hadn’t even changed the way she knocked – that’s just the sort of person that my sister was. I had no intentions to answer the door, or even to get up; I stayed seated, where I had been for some considerable time. I gazed out of the floor to ceiling windows at the city of Paris below, lit up beautifully, like a maze of lights. For a while there was nothing but silence, and I thought, nay, prayed, that perhaps she’d left, assuming I was out; I should’ve known better. I heard a key slide into the lock, the tumbler turn, and the door swing open. The man at the front desk had given her a key; I really ought to have him fired.
“Look at the state of this place,” she said, holding up one of the many takeaway containers which littered the floor, the smallest hint of disgust in her voice. I didn’t turn around to face her, I simply sat in the arm chair by the window staring out, with my knees against my chest, wrapped in a wool blanket. My usually short, well-kept hair had grown long, and unruly, a dishevelled greasy mess. A 5 o’clock shadow had settled on my face some time ago, and grew darker with each passing day. To put it frankly, I was a mess.
“Hello Claire.” I murmured so quietly, that I wasn’t sure if I’d even said it. I think that was the first time I’d heard my own voice for quite a while. I heard her sigh softly, heard her heels clack slowly on the wooden floor as she walked towards me. Always wearing heels, despite the impracticality. Claire wrapped her arms around me from behind, bring them together on my bare chest, resting her head in the nape of my neck. I didn’t flinch, I hardly reacted at all; honestly I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or cry at the sheer absurdity of the situation. I’d been doing a lot of both, as of late, and would be doing more in the days to come, but at that moment, I did neither.
“Oh James.” Claire whispered gently. She had such a beautiful, sultry voice. One which many a man had fallen in love with, and one which had broken the hearts of those same men. She said my name, over and over again, caressing my chest; but still I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the city lights. I only caught a glimpse of Claire’s pretty face in my peripheral version.
“They miss you back in New York, James. They’re always asking me ‘Oh Claire, where is Jimmy? When is Jimmy coming home?’”. She crooned ever so sweetly, knowing full well that I hated her calling me that name. I wasn’t sure who ‘they’ referred to, but I was certain that no-one had asked Claire such whimsical questions. I shrugged, to such a slight extent, the shoulder upon which her head rested. Not enough to brush her off, but enough for my overbearing sister to get the message. She tore herself away from me, moodily and over-dramatically; Claire could be such a child at times. The room was dark, lit only by the moonlight, and the fluorescent light trickling through the doorway from the hall outside. Claire had moved to the window, the silhouette of her impressive figure outlined against the night sky. She dropped her head and sighed once more.
“Why did you come here, Claire?” I asked, not even certain I wanted to know the answer. The flight across the Atlantic was no issue of money, certainly not in our family, but rather one of effort; not a quality which my sister possessed.
“You cannot stay here forever James. Sitting here in her apartment, mourning like some sort of despairing lover will not bring her back. It’s time to come home.” Claire’s tone was an interesting mixture, somewhere between genuine concern, apathy, and disdain. It was a combination of what, and how she said it, that caused me to rise from the chair, for the first time I could remember. I grabbed her shoulder, and swung her around to face me; even with her stilettos on I still towered a good few inches above my older sister. It was then that I did something I’d never dreamed myself capable of, and I slapped her – I slapped Claire; not hard enough to truly hurt, but enough. Much to my surprise, she did not scream or shout, she did not cry or hit me back. My sister simply gawked at me with there vacant expression, a red mark spreading across her cheek, and then she nodded; as if to accept what I had done.
“I apologise, that was out of line.” she muttered to the floor, as she shuffled her feet. There was the resemblance to a child once again.
“Don’t bother. You’ve already said it. I’m only disappointed in myself for expecting better from you.” I said, in a voice angrier than I’d perhaps intended, before sitting back down in my chair; I didn’t bother collecting the fallen blanket from the floor.
“James, sweetheart” Claire began, crouching down in front of me and taking my hands in hers. “Why must you be like this?” I couldn’t be sure in the dark apartment, but I could’ve sworn her cheeks were damp with tears. I felt almost sorry for my sister, in a way. A strange sentiment considering I was the one who’d spent far too long holed away in a dead woman’s apartment.
“I’m not stupid Claire. I know Sophie’s gone, but some of us can’t just go back to life and pretend nothing ever happened.” I said, pulling my hands away from her’s. I couldn’t blame Claire for not wanting to spend forever mourning, but it was almost as if she didn’t care at all about the events which transpired.
“It’s been 2 months now James, you have to let go.”
“I don’t have to do anything. Certainly not anything you tell me.”
“Have you been out on to the balcony, since… since it happened?” Claire stumbled over her words in a very uncharacteristic fashion, gesturing towards the balcony which lay behind the sliding doors. I struggled to reply, a lump the size of my fist had caught in my throat, and the words seemed to escape me.
“N-no.” I managed to muster a mumble. Claire stood up and walked towards the doors, opening them out onto the balcony. The wind, the noise, the cold; a roaring force of elements blew into the apartment as she stepped outside. I followed. Claire took the golden cigarette case from her purse, putting one in her mouth and lighting it, before offering one to me.
“I don’t smoke anymore.” I said, pushing her hand away.
“Since 2 months ago. Sophie always wanted me to quit; it’s the least I can do for her.”
“Makes sense.” Claire muttered in agreement. She puffed the cigarette, it’s grey cloud of smoke hanging like death in the night air; as if this place needed anymore of that. We stood there in silence for a while. I’m not sure what was on Claire’s mind, but I had an idea. All I could think about was Sophie.
“She was too young and pretty to die” Claire said sadly.
“You know it was her 23rd birthday?”
“Was it? Poor girl. She was always your favourite sister though, wasn’t she?” She said, not really expecting me to answer, already knowing what I’d say. I exhaled. Sophie was much more than a sister to me. She was everything, and now my everything was gone. Claire tossed the butt of her cigarette from the balcony, and I watched that little glimmer of light spiral down into the darkness of the alleys and streets below. “I suppose I had better get going James. You take care of yourself.” For a moment I thought I almost heard genuine concern in Claire’s voice, before dismissing it as an impossibility. She patted me on the shoulder, unsympathetically, but I think she was trying. She stepped inside and made her way for the door.
“Have a safe flight Claire.” I called out, unsure if she’d hear me. My sister said nothing more, and then I heard the apartment door close gently. She’d aim to be back in New York before work tomorrow, that’s just the sort of person Claire was. The sun would be rising again soon, rising on a new day. Perhaps this would be the one, the one where I could finally move on, but I doubted it. People have different ways of dealing with grief, Claire and I sitting somewhere on opposite ends of the spectrum, and because of this, we couldn’t quite understand the other’s methods. I sighed, and headed back into the apartment, closing the door behind me. I picked up my blanket, and sat back down in my chair. It was nice here, it still smelt of Sophie; I could almost picture her sat here with me.